Friday, July 11, 2008

I Stumble Into Town Like A Sacred Cow

Late Tuesday night I arrived in Shanghai. Yesterday, I traveled by train to Nanjing. Despite the fact that this is my fourth visit to China, there are still a number of lessons that I've learned (or relearned) in the last few days:

- Always have RMB available if you take a cab. When we left the office in a taxi with a Chinese co-worker who was getting dropped off first at a different hotel, we failed to appreciate just how important this was. Even though though the tab was only 11 RMB (less than $2), our attempts to settle up with a credit card or US dollars were rebuffed with extreme prejudice. While my colleague ran inside our hotel for an emergency currency conversion, I tried my best universal sign and body language to explain the situation and apologize for the inconvenience the crabby cabbie to no avail. Note to self: learn how to say "I'm sorry" in Chinese.

- Never schedule an important business meeting for the afternoon of the day after you've just traversed a dozen time zones. You can drink as much coffee as you like, but at some point in the mid to late afternoon that jet lag is going to kick in and its going to kick your arse from a mental standpoint. Having your brain start powering down right when you need it most is not a pleasant experience. The only upside is that you're too damn tired to really care.

- If you're asked if you want your beer "ice" at dinner, say yes otherwise you're going to end up with a room temperature bottle. And room temp (to say nothing of humidity) in China in July is going to mean you're swilling an awfully warm Tsingtao.

- Abandon all previously held concepts of body space, queue etiquette, and general public politeness immediately after arriving. Otherwise, you're never going to get anywhere and you're going to be very irritated about it. Go with the flow (or lack thereof) and embrace the chaos.

- You can never start too low when you begin the bartering banter with street vendors. In hindsight, when the gentlemen offering to sell me a pair of genuine, officially licensed Oakley sunglasses (what, you think they ain't?) led off with 55 RMB, I should have come in with a much lower counter-offer than the 30 RMB price which he quickly (too quickly) agreed to.

More lessons learned will be passed on as needed. Meanwhile, I'm hearing rumors of some sort of big event unfolding in China in the next month or so. And I think it involves athletics. I'm going to do some more digging and if I'm able to confirm and clarify these rumors, you'll be the first to know.

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